Quantcast

Eating Less Meat and Dairy Essential to Curb Climate Change

You probably know most vegetarians than you used to. You may even know some vegans—people who eat no animal products, including eggs, butter, milk and cheese. But did you know that their dietary habits may be essential to save the planet? A new research paper from UK think tank Chatham House, Livestock—Climate Change's Forgotten Sector, explains why it may be necessary for a lot more people to go vegetarian or at least dial down their consumption of meat and dairy products, and how to get them to do that.

Raising livestock for meat and dairy comes at high cost to the environment.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

You may have laughed at the idea that cows and cattle are a major producer of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. Unfortunately for the steak lovers out there, it's true. Climate-impacting emissions are produced not just by the animals' digestive systems, but also by the fertilizers and manure used to produce feed and the deforestation taking place to provide grazing lands. To add insult to injury, livestock animals consume large amounts of water, agricultural and land resources that could be deployed to support a higher quality of life for humans.

Greenhouse gas emissions from livestock, the study says, account for about 14.5 percent of the global total, more than direct emissions from the transportation sector and more than all the emissions produced by the U.S., the world's biggest economy. And it's probably impossible to keep global temperature increases under 2 degrees Celsius, the commonly cited goal to prevent unstoppable global warming, without addressing livestock production—and global dietary trends.

Those trends illustrate that the demand for livestock products and meat consumption are increasing in countries like China as more people become more affluent. Currently, the biggest meat-eating countries are China, EU, U.S. and Brazil; major dairy consumers are China, India, EU and U.S. And consumption of meat is expected to grow 76 percent by 2050 with dairy consumption projected to increase by 65 percent. Growth in meat consumption in China is projected to be over four times that of the next fastest-growing consumer, Brazil.

“Our LiveWell project has shown we can cut a quarter of our climate emissions from the European food supply chain by eating more pulses, fruit and vegetables and by reducing our meat consumption," Brigitte Alarcon, sustainable food policy officer at WWF, told The Guardian of London. "National governments should improve food education to encourage healthy eating habits and environmental sustainability as a first step.”

But the study says that governments and environmental groups have, for the most part, been reluctant to address meat-eating, compared, for instance, to high-profile campaigns on palm oil use.

"A number of factors, not least fear of backlash, have made governments and environmental groups reluctant to pursue policies or campaigns to shift consumer behavior," it says. That means being mocked as a back-to-the-earth hippie type who probably listens to jam bands and makes tie-dye garments in the kitchen sink—with organic dyes.

Yet "Individual and societal behavioral changes are essential to moderate consumption of meat and dairy products," it said. "This in turn will require a greater level of public awareness and understanding of the links between diet and climate change, to both enable voluntary lifestyle changes and ensure acceptance of, and responsiveness to, government policies. However, insufficient attention has been devoted to raising public awareness and preparing to shift societal behaviors."

Meat-consuming countries contribute an outsized share of greenhouse gas emissions. Image credit: Chatham House

On a positive note, it suggested that people were generally unaware of how livestock contributed to climate change compared to their awareness of other factors. And when they did become aware, they were more likely to cut meat consumption. People's first considerations were likely to be taste, price, health and food safety, which suggests strategies that could be employed in getting people to reduce meat consumption by emphasizing other factors in addition to climate change. And since awareness of, and concern about, manmade climate change especially high in emerging economies whose meat-eating is growing, there's reason for optimism.

"It is encouraging that some of the greatest potential for behavior change appears to be in countries of most importance to future demand for meat and dairy—Brazil, China and India," the study concluded. "Respondents in these countries demonstrated high levels of acceptance of anthropogenic climate change, greater consideration of climate change in their food choices and a greater willingness to modify their consumption behavior than the average of the countries assessed."

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Cowspiracy Exposes the Truth About Animal Agriculture

How Eating Less Beef Will Benefit the Environment

How This Trending Diet Is Saving the Planet

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Mizina / iStock / Getty Images

By Ryan Raman, MS, RD

Oats are widely regarded as one of the healthiest grains you can eat, as they're packed with many important vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Read More Show Less
JPMorgan Chase building in New York City. Ben Sutherland / CC BY 2.0

By Sharon Kelly

A report published Wednesday names the banks that have played the biggest recent role in funding fossil fuel projects, finding that since 2016, immediately following the Paris agreement's adoption, 33 global banks have poured $1.9 trillion into financing climate-changing projects worldwide.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Sriram Madhusoodanan of Corporate Accountability speaking on conflict of interest demand of the People's Demands at a defining action launching the Demands at COP24. Corporate Accountability

By Patti Lynn

2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."

Read More Show Less
The head of England's Environment Agency has urged people to stop watering their lawns as a climate-induced water shortage looms. Pexels

England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Jessica Corbett

A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A flock of parrots in Telegraph Hill, San Francisco. ~dgies / Flickr

By Madison Dapcevich

Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.

Read More Show Less
Fire burns in the North Santiam State Recreational Area on March 19. Oregon Department of Forestry

An early-season wildfire near Lyons, Oregon burned 60 acres and forced dozens of homes to evacuate Tuesday evening, the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) said, as KTVZ reported.

The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.

Read More Show Less
Edwin Hardeman is the plaintiff in the first U.S. federal trial claiming that Roundup causes cancer. NOAH BERGER / AFP / Getty Images

A second U.S. jury has ruled that Roundup causes cancer.

The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

The decision comes less than a year after a jury awarded $289 million to Bay-area groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson over similar claims. The amount was later reduced to $78 million.

"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."

Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.

"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."

Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.

However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.

"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.

Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.

Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.

"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.

Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.

University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.